Monday, August 09, 2010

2 simple measures will clear roadblock

2 simple measures will clear roadblock

There are better alternatives to road-widening to solve the city's traffic problems

Ashwin Mahesh

After a lot of hand-wringing, as well as some pushing and shoving experienced by the Mayor past week, the plans of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to widen numerous roads in the city are on hold. A lot of the bedlam over the issue could have been avoided had the city approached it correctly to begin with.
No one really likes to see his property and plans uprooted by the city authorities. So it is not surprising that so many people opposed the BBMP's plans. At the same time, this is not merely a case of people saying: 'not in my backyard'. The opposition to road-widening has come about due to some evident lacunae in the way the city has gone about the exercise. By not having a proper policy on road widening, we entered into a tunnel from which there was no exit.
First, there is no clear policy on why roads were proposed to be widened. Of course, every city needs to manage its growth, and some of this growth will need revisions in infrastructure. But this explanation is too vague.
There has to be a much clearer reference, by which the city is able to demonstrate why specific roads are chosen for widening, while other roads are not widened. Also, every city should learn to tolerate some level of congestion; the world over, planners have recognised this.
The Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development (ABIDe) Task Force has suggested that the city should first make the most use of its existing infrastructure, and only then try to add to it. In particular, we have recommended that only 14 roads in the city (the Big-10 roads, the Outer Ring Road, and two others) need to be improved — not necessarily widened, but improved.
If the junctions along these roads are made signal-free, a major chunk of the current woes could be addressed.
Indeed, the tender of the BBMP just before the elections included junction improvement plans for several of these roads, although the timing of the effort, and the unusually high cost per kilometre, have left many citizens surprised and unhappy. A revised, lower cost version of that tender would still be in the city's best interests, I am confident.
The BBMP's plan also met with public resistance because it was focussed on all the wrong roads — busy market stretches, which can be 'pedestrianised' instead of widened, and leafy quiet stretches like the Sankey Road that don't carry much traffic anyway. And when citizens asked how these roads were selected for widening, the officials were unable to give a coherent answer. No wonder that citizens were not convinced the Palike had done its homework.
The selection of roads was also wrong for a different reason. All over the city, there are 60 feet and 80 feet roads that lead nowhere, and whose connections to the broader network need to be improved. On many of these roads, there are "revenue" layouts and unauthorised constructions. If these sub-arterial roads were tackled (by even demolishing encroachments if need be), a lot of the load on the Big-10 roads could be relieved. People would have more choices for movement. Even buses could go on more roads.
But instead, we are witnessing a curious stance — unauthorised and disorderly developments that impede smooth traffic flow are being offered the protection of Akrama Sakrama, while perfectly legal and orderly buildings are sought to be demolished for widening roads.
This is unfair. It compounds the other two errors — of taking up widening that is not needed, or won't help anyway.
Two simple steps — improving the 14 major roads by eliminating their junction points and redeveloping revenue layouts near sub-arterial roads — can deliver most of the gains we are looking for.
And whatever funds are left should simply be spent on footpath widening, instead of on road-widening!
Professor Ashwin Mahesh is a member of the ABIDe Task Force, and is with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM-BangaloreThe BBMP's plan to widen roads met with public resistance because it was focused on all the wrong roads — busy market stretches, and leafy quiet stretches, like the Sankey Road, that don't carry much traffic anyway


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